Encouraged to Give

When Hope adjunct professor Susanna Lankheet read in this Hope Forward Blog about retired Professor Bill Moreau and how he can’t seem to retire from giving – she launched into a special kind of Hope Forward giving all her own. The two go way back to high school when Bill Moreau was her English teacher. That’s only the beginning of a touching story about how she ended up following in his footsteps, right up to his former office in Lubbers 312.

Thank you for the feature on Mr. Moreau! He is the reason I am a teacher today—I am living proof that kindness matters.

Bill was my high school English teacher who encouraged us to write, think as we created words on a page, and explore meaning in literature.

He was also funny and charming! No doubt many of my classmates remember him for his sense of humor that won over more than a few grumpy teenagers. I remember him clearly: standing in the halls of Hamilton High greeting us first thing in the morning, present and showing care.

One day an opportunity to write for the Holland Sentinel rolled around for a new student section in the paper. Mr. Moreau asked my friend and me if we were interested, and I said yes.

I said yes to creativity, to taking a chance, to seeing the world in a slightly larger context than from my comfortable perch in Grafschaap, Michigan.

My friends were featured in the Sentinel articles I wrote. We wanted to be artists and individuals—late 90s versions of punk rockers. We hung out at the Park Theatre for alternative night on Saturdays, dancing to the Cure. They had things to say and I wrote about their style. Later, those articles garnered a journalism scholarship to Western Michigan University. I wrote decently because I read a lot, but also because I had an editor. I had Mr. Moreau. I had a person who cared about my mental and emotional mechanics, someone who saw potential in me.

Fast forward: I earned a degree in English after five luxury years on campus, continued to explore spiritual paths, and on graduation began teaching at a community college.

The courses I taught were dual-enrollment so that meant I was in a high school. It felt familiar but more satisfying than my own Hamilton High days. I was the one greeting students, reading over their essays, and asking about their day. I was Mr. Moreau?!

Not quite yet. Mr. Moreau did other things to give back because that is his nature. He’s one of the most humble and approachable people I’ve ever met. Whatever other good stuff he did and does is never shouted to the rooftops.

As a grad student pursuing English, my career horizons expanded, and I accepted a job at Hope teaching gifted middle schoolers for an academic year. Guess who I saw on campus? Guess who was kind, down-to-earth, and walked everywhere? That’s right.

I graduated again, became more deeply invested in Christianity, jumped a few personal hurdles, and was hired as an adjunct professor at Hope teaching Expository Writing. The same course that Mr. Moreau taught! It gets better: because Hope is a generous and thoughtful place, adjuncts are bequeathed offices. I was assigned Lubbers 312.

It brings tears to my eyes thinking about how momentously full circle this is—my office had been Mr. Moreau’s.

I saw him not too long ago delivering campus mail, walking, of course. And I could barely speak as I realized again and again that faith is real, kindness matters, and it’s so amazing.

Some thirty years after high school I continue to be encouraged by Mr. Moreau. He gives his earnings to Hope Forward? Well, I will as well.

Of course Bill can’t be matched in generousness, so the most-kindhearted title will always be his.

A Contagious Gift

To celebrate the most generous day of the year, our students want to share with you what they would want to say to the people who have made their Hope College education possible.

We currently have 80 students on our campus receiving the gift of a fully funded education because of generous people like you (and like Dr. Bill Moreau and his wife who shared their story in our previous post). In turn, these students have committed to generous, annual giving back to Hope after they graduate so future students can have the same opportunity. This beautiful cycle of giving is what we call Hope Forward, and what we one day want for every student at Hope College.

While I could go on and on about the depth and breadth of impact Hope Forward is having on our students, today I’ll stick to sharing about the impact it’s having on their hearts and minds. In a world that makes selfishness easy, I see our students ready to live a life of giving rooted in gratitude and abundance because of the gift they have received.

If students could meet our donors, here are some things they would want to say…

Thank you for this gift that goes on to be a gift for many and many generations. Your gift is a catalyst of Hope. Because you gave, I will also give. I am forever grateful and blessed.

Your gift is and will impact far more than just me.

You are a part of changing the world through Hope, and we couldn’t thank you enough.

You are an inspiration to be generous.

I am so grateful for you! I get to study to be a nurse and help others through challenging times because of your generosity. What an incredible gift and blessing! Thank you!

Thank you for your generous and selfless giving that enabled me to be where I am today. Thank you for showing me Christ’s love in action.

Thank you for providing me the opportunity to receive something so valuable that I will carry with me forever.

Thank you for your generous donation. Thank you for giving me a chance to do something great with my life.

Thank you so much for this great gift! You have no idea how much your generosity means to not just me but my family, community and country. God bless your heart!

Thank you for trusting me to steward well what you give me.

I cannot wait to do what you have done for me for other people!

Want to join in on the contagious gift of generosity and gratitude this GivingTuesday? Visit hope.edu/givingtuesday to make your gift.

With full hearts, our students are so grateful!

Unable to Retire from Giving | Bill Moreau ’76

Retired faculty, Bill Moreau ’76, is working to give back to the student body of Hope College.

Bill didn’t know what he wanted to do after college but was always sure about one thing: helping people. He taught at Hamilton High School at the same time he was teaching at Hope. Simultaneously teaching secondary and higher education was a unique experience. However, he says it is exactly what he needed to be doing at the time. He highly values the relationships, which he referred to as “friendships,” he has cultivated with students.

During his teaching years at Hope, Bill taught sections of English 113 and Senior Seminar. He loves that he would see students in his Senior Seminar who took his English 113 course as freshmen. It was a heartwarming full-circle moment. Getting to know people through writing was important for him to do as a professor. “Hope students are interested in doing well and want to do a good job,” he said. This translated not only to just words on a page but through actions and campus involvement. He wanted students to know that he was invested in them not just as students but as young people.

He has lived up to his expectations as he has received yearbook dedications and has been invited to deliver the commencement address a few times at Hamilton. Those personal achievements are what he recalls as some of the most notable awards from his career. His impact on students has also gone global as he was a participant in the Fulbright Teacher Exchange which resulted in him teaching in England for a year. From there, he continued this legacy by sending high school students to the United Kingdom and hosting students here in Holland.

Given his extensive career, it is no wonder that he has not been able to say a final goodbye to campus. “I wasn’t great at retirement,” he said. “I missed Hope students.” In his free time, Bill is back on campus working in Print and Mail as a route driver. Occasionally he will run into students, faculty and staff. This experience has allowed him to see how invaluable staff services are. Kim, Kristi, Madison and all of the other campus support staff work hard behind the scenes to make the campus run. He has the utmost gratitude for them and their commitment to the college. It makes his role as a route driver all the more worthwhile.

Bill may have become a route driver because he wasn’t great at retirement, but it goes beyond that. Bill and his wife made the decision that 100 percent of his paycheck while working in Print and Mail gets donated back to Hope Forward. He doesn’t do this so he can be recognized for his efforts. In fact, he would rather keep this information behind a curtain never to be acknowledged. The reason he is willing to share his contribution to Hope Forward is because it encourages people to give in a unique way.

He always thought that education was too costly, but he never knew what to do. With Hope Forward he sees an idea that can work and is willing to contribute to it. Hope Forward allows students to become a part of a healthy society. “The real world is being represented on this campus through Hope Forward,” he explained.

Bill sees Hope Forward as something people need to be putting on their list of things to give to. If everyone can make a small contribution, it will add up to be big and make a difference. “If it inspires people, then it’s worth it,” he said. Giving to Hope Forward is to help the world that Hope grads enter into. It is a way to give Hope to the world.

Hope Forward | Growth and Gratitude

My name is Spencer Turbin and I am a current senior at Hope studying economics, global security and German. I am originally from Livonia, Michigan, and now live in Traverse City, Michigan. I started my freshman year at Hope in 2020 in the heat of the pandemic and will graduate May 2024. I have experienced and witnessed Hope College through varying stages but have found growth and gratitude through all of them.

My initial decision in coming to Hope was rooted in the community it provided, the unique high-quality programs and resources present, and the cost of attendance. For me, I was privileged enough that paying for Hope was a ‘doable feat’ through both Hope-provided and independent scholarships, generous contributions from my family and on-campus jobs. While I cannot say that the financial aspect was stress-free, I can attest that I am extremely lucky to be graduating from Hope this spring with little to no debt. As I face the bittersweet reality of graduation in May, I can confidently say that I am excited and encouraged by what my future may hold.

Exploring discernment and calling are important processes for all college students, but they are particularly emphasized institutionally at Hope. For me, this process contains an excess of exploration and opportunity. I get to make exciting decisions about where in the U.S. I may live, what industry I want to start my career in, and most importantly, what type of values I wish to emphasize as I align my personal goals with professional career options.

An exciting aspect of the discernment process is doing it alongside my peers. However, this is where a clear divide emerges. It is easy and encouraging to talk to friends in similar situations as me; but for the majority of my friends, this is not the case. Financial sacrifices, burdens and entanglements limit many of my peers’ decision-making factors when composing post-grad plans. These factors often center around location and the financial need to stay at home, seeking a numeric requirement that will simultaneously cover cost of living and loan payments. Pursuing this type of stability often leads to traditional jobs that are devoid of personal passion. None of these factors are inherently negative or wrong, but it is unrealistic to assume that they have no impact on the potential happiness or change affecting the opportunities of Hope graduates.

Interning with the Hope Forward initiative has been a huge privilege as it has allowed me to see Hope Forward in all of its stages. Through both myself and my friends, I have witnessed the initial benefits of Hope Forward through Anchored Tuition. Through current cohort members, I get a glimpse of a community and an opportunity that can one day be a reality for many Hope students. Through my specific work at admissions, I get to hear stories and meet students from all over the world who embody hope, hard work and generosity. It’s tremendously encouraging to see the willingness and desire of these students to bring their stories and talents to Hope College.

One of the strongest certainties I have identified through my work with Hope Forward is that it doesn’t mean or represent one singular thing. Hope Forward means and represents different things to each person. To me, Hope Forward encourages and celebrates excellence and hard work. It transforms a college education into a multi-faceted investment in human potential and it provides a necessary experience to students regardless of their background.

The work of Hope Forward and the potential it brings means meaningful change for all Hope students to come. This will not only be seen through reduced tuition bills, but also a change in the way students interact with their education and their community. This change will not only have an impact on the student experience, but also on Hope College as an institution. An innovative shift in the way that Hope operates and creates graduates has the ability to redefine how we think about higher education as a whole. This change in thinking is critical as it allows us to ensure that all students who are capable of succeeding in college are able to attend college in the first place.

A Gift of Education

“The power of education is so transformative,” said Kara VanderKamp ’95. She would know. She’s seen education change the lives of 4,500 Nigerien children and counting.

The CEO and founder of Remember Niger Coalition (Remember Niger) was transformed by a Hope College education. She wants to pay it forward the Hope Forward way by ensuring as many children as possible receive a high-quality education in Niger, West Africa, the least-educated country in the world.

According to VanderKamp, only half the children in Niger attend primary school and only 20 percent of them attend secondary school because many live in rural areas with no access to education. If they are fortunate enough to attend school, the quality of their education suffers from rampant overcrowding, often with 100 students in a single classroom.

VanderKamp has been working with local Nigerien community leaders for the past 16 years to change that. Through Remember Niger, a nonprofit organization dedicated to unifying people and mobilizing resources to expand quality educational opportunities in one of the least-developed nations on earth, 80 classrooms have been built and 4,500 students are receiving an education.

This is life-changing because many students come from the most vulnerable groups, including the disabled and orphans. Education especially changes the lives of girls living in extreme poverty. They are often married in their early teens, sometimes to husbands with more than one wife, VanderKamp explained. Getting a primary education means they are more likely to attend high school and graduate with skills providing income-earning potential and a more independent future.

Working with an in-country counterpart, VanderKamp supports local churches and organizations that want to provide education in their communities but don’t have the resources. “It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice on their part to start a school,” said VanderKamp, noting that the Nigerien government doesn’t have the funding to support them. “We give them the right level of support and come alongside and encourage them so they will take the leap.”

Remember Niger raises funding mostly through churches across the United States and is the bridge to churches and organizations in Niger who have a vision to provide education in their communities. Remember Niger funds construction of classrooms, latrines, security walls and other school structures, with the goal of local leaders owning and operating the schools.

In addition, the nonprofit organization coordinates student sponsorships, where generous donors agree to cover individual students’ education expenses. Remember Niger also focuses on wellness by providing daily meals, planting school gardens, conducting hygiene education and meeting students’ acute medical needs. With only 62 percent of Nigerien teachers having one year of post-high school training, Remember Niger also sponsors a Teach-the-Teacher program in coordination with the local Ministry of Education, VanderKamp said.

“The foundation of what we do is relational,” she added. “Institutions of education don’t change people. It’s the relationships you form through those institutions. Through loving care, empathy and kindness, lives are changed.”

VanderKamp’s involvement with education in Niger started with her time at Hope. “It was definitely about relationships at Hope,” said VanderKamp, who formed deep friendships with her Sigma sorority sisters and the women on Hope’s soccer team, where she was a captain.

“Hope gave me the space to explore, experiment and take many different classes,” said VanderKamp, a political science and elementary education major. “I loved the way professors really helped you think critically about the world around you and not to be judgmental.”

Doing a Washington Semester through Hope where she had an internship in the Department of Education stoked her adventurous spirit. It gave her the confidence to go to England to play soccer after graduation, work for Habitat for Humanity and teach children for a missionary family serving among a semi-nomadic tribe in Africa. That’s when Africa “stuck in my heart,” she said.

After teaching in Chicago for several years and earning a master’s degree in international educational development, she got a job with the Presbyterian Church (USA) as an educational consultant. Working there eventually led to her starting Remember Niger, something she never dreamed of doing.

One of the reasons she could pursue a life of impact in Niger was that she graduated with no student debt. Her parents put VanderKamp and her three siblings through Hope College. To do so, her mother, Joyce, returned to work full time, dedicating her entire salary to their Hope education so they would not have to take out loans, VanderKamp said.

“A Hope education was an enormous gift,” she added – a gift she now can pass along to children in Niger. And she’s confident that the students in Niger will pass their gift of education to others the Hope Forward way.

“When you ask students what they want to do with their education, nine times out of 10 they will say, ‘I want to help my community and be useful to my country,’” VanderKamp said. “They feel like they’ve won the lottery when they can get an education.”

Learn more at www.rememberniger.org.

Defining Generosity

As we wrap up the first quarter of the fall semester, I am struck by the excellent work happening at Hope College and what that means for bringing about God’s healing and goodness in the world. During his time on campus last spring, Malcolm Gladwell said it brilliantly: “Our nation is facing three major hurdles that affect its wellbeing: the model of higher education funding is broken; young people today face a mental health crisis; the Church is fractured, and often viewed as irrelevant.” He then beautifully proclaimed that Hope Forward addresses all three. It’s a vision in pursuit of a culture that entails community, access and generosity.

Erin Drews, Hope Forward Coordinator

In my role as program coordinator, I have the distinct privilege of walking alongside the 80 students who are currently receiving the gift of a fully-funded tuition experience. For the first year of my role, I thought about the Hope Forward Scholars and those who champion Hope Forward as “culture catalysts” who propelled that way of existence. However, the more I engage the role I see that this vision is a natural one for Hope College: that the program virtues of community, access and generosity are not prescriptive for Hope College, but rather confirming of an already incredible Hope College.

“Generosity” can be defined as “freely and abundantly giving of oneself.” I am struck by how deeply a culture of gratitude and generosity is already present at Hope; I think about the excellent work being done here that is catalyzing such a culture:
. . . To the professor who spends hours helping a student understand a concept, an ideology, a historical reality, or an equation- you are freely and abundantly giving of yourself.
. . . To those of you who open your offices for discussion, or your homes for an end-of-semester meal- you are freely and abundantly giving of yourself.
. . . To those of you who sit with a student in moments of crises and celebration: you are freely and abundantly giving of yourself.
. . . To those of you who keep our campus clean, maintained and safe: you are freely and abundantly giving of yourself.
. . . To the students who diligently lead Orientation, MSOs, Dance Marathon, and more: you are freely and abundantly giving of yourself.

This isn’t just a future vision. The Hope College community already models and participates in a culture of generosity. Hope Forward is merely a by-product of an existing culture. So perhaps those of us involved with the program are less of culture catalysts, and might be more accurately described as culture amplifiers; that a more realistic description of what we do in the program is elevating an existing culture of community, access and generosity that was created ahead of Hope Forward. The vision is not at odds with Hope College; it is Hope College.

YOU, dear Hope College community, daily invigorate my faith in this vision, and as previously stated I believe that you are why we see the program pillars in action. As an alumna, I can say with full confidence that those along my college journey shaped my lived experience in meaningful ways that I continue to carry with me. My prayer is that as we wrap up month one of the school year, you are reminded of the ways you are already living this vision so beautifully.

Celebrating a Year of Growth and Learning: Hope Forward Program Year-End Recap

They say sequels are never as good as the first, but when it comes to the Hope Forward Program, I adamantly disagree. Year two of the program surpassed all expectations and proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. As the Program Director, I have the privilege of witnessing the profound impact that Hope Forward has had on the lives of our students. In this year-end recap, I am thrilled to share the highlights of our journey with you.

Welcoming New Students and Building Community:

Last August, our 22 sophomores warmly welcomed 36 freshmen to campus. Together, our 58 students bring with them a rich tapestry of cultures, backgrounds and experiences as they represent 11 different countries and 19 U.S. States. Their diverse interests and passions are exemplified by the 22 different majors represented among the 34 students who have already declared a major. Approximately half of our 58 students are students of color, and around 20% are proud first-generation college students. Amidst all their differences, they beautifully find commonality through a desire to bring hope to areas of hopelessness which was a foundational aspect of their Hope Forward application process.

“We [the cohort] are all so different which is beautiful. God has a plan for all of us and it is so evident when I interact with each and every one of them. I have always considered myself a glass half-full kind of person, however, my cohort friends help me see how the glass can not just be half-full but overflowing.”

– Freshman Student

Another remarkable characteristic they have in common is their lifelong, covenantal relationship with the college. These students are receiving the gift of a college education while committing to generous, annual giving back to Hope after they graduate. This distinctive model, known as Hope Forward, fosters a deep sense of gratitude and reciprocity within the community.

“The Hope Forward Program helped me find a community that inspires me to work hard and that gives me a lot of support. It helps me to get motivated and to remember that we can always share good things and put effort into the betterment of a community.”

– Freshman Student

Learning Together

Throughout their time on campus, Hope Forward students engage in a comprehensive program designed to prepare and equip them for a lifetime of positive impact rooted in gratitude and generosity. The program, spanning from orientation to graduation, offers co-curricular learning opportunities aligned with the program pillars of community, access, and generosity. Guided by our dedicated team and strong campus partnership, students cultivate virtues such as gratitude, generosity, curiosity, and hope through integrated and applied learning, habitual practice, mutual accountability, and meaningful connections with virtuous role models.

“Hope Forward gave me a community that was catalytic and accepting. It reminded me that I was here on purpose and for a purpose in a deep and impactful way. I learned to love amidst fear and transition, to learn from my peers, and to empower my drive for change by leaning on the love of others.”

– Freshman Student

A few highlights of this past year include: 

  • Shared meals with Hope administrators like President Scogin and CFO, Tom Bylsma, where students learned more about the innovative funding model of Hope Forward and its potential impacts on higher education
  • The creation of a “Cohort Community Covenant” and an art collaborative project which provided an opportunity for students to articulate their commitment to personal growth and investment in the cohort experience
  • The development of a personal portfolio which gives students an opportunity to reflect on a series of prompts related to the learning outcomes throughout the year
  • A cohort-hosted banquet that empowered each student to use their gifts and talents to show gratitude to their invited guests of honor
  • A weekly seminar during which the cohort collectively defined the pillars and then individually presented on what they love in connection to the pillars
  • Participation in the innovation foundation workshop led by the Office of Possibilities
  • And, last but certainly not least, the Catalyst Summit when students shared a meal with Malcolm Gladwell, debuted their cohort collaborative art collection, shared personal stories and experiences with thought-leaders, and celebrated being a foundational part of Hope’s big vision

Student Investment and Growth

The program is still in its pilot phase and we continue to learn from students every day, but early indications tell us that our students are invested in their education and are thriving at Hope. We are thrilled that every single one of our freshmen are planning to return to Hope this fall giving us a 100% freshman-to-sophomore retention rate. I also want to highlight the remarkable achievement of our students – our Hope Forward students are performing academically on par with their peers (dispelling the notion that eliminating tuition reduces a student’s academic investment), almost all (97%) of our students say they feel like they can positively contribute to Hope College, 89% are involved in one or more co-curriculars (which research tell us only elevates classroom learning), and every single one of our students report that they are leading a purposeful and meaningful life. To me, these stand in stark contrast to the narrative we often hear about young adults post COVID. 

We also had 100% of our students report typically exemplifying and demonstrating the virtue of gratitude and 97% typically exemplifying and demonstrating generosity. It gets me so excited to think about a generation full of young people with strong virtues and unshakable character running fearlessly and uninhibited toward a hurting world. 

Looking Ahead

“Hope Forward makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself.”

– Freshman Student

Before we start year three, I want to end this year expressing immense gratitude for this big, bold vision that our community gets to embark on together. Hope Forward is creating a multi-generational community where we humbly receive and then, in turn, get to give out of abundance and gratitude so that future generations can do the same. Proverbs 11:24 says, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer.” Hope Forward’s cycle of giving and communal investment makes our community rich; rich in love and grace, which was first given to us through the gift of Jesus and points us back to Him. 

This fall, we’re looking forward to welcoming an additional 24 Hope Forward students into this rich community and we anticipate nothing less but continued learning and growth together. 

If you would like to learn more about the Hope Forward student experience and hear student stories, please visit hope.edu/forward.

Moving from Contract to Covenant

Peter Baldwin had a lightbulb moment and started seeing Hope Forward in a whole new light.

The president and owner of AMDG Architects, while munching on his box lunch, was listening to the Rev. Trygve Johnson make the Christian case for Hope Forward at a lunch-and-learn session at Hope’s recent Catalyst Summit.

The Catalyst Summit on campus, March 2023.

Johnson, the Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel and Hope College’s campus ministries leader, was explaining that the Hope Forward funding model is rooted in God’s grace. Hope Forward is a revolutionary plan where students fund their education through gifts after graduation rather than paying for college through tuition and debt up front.

To demonstrate his point, Johnson referred to the Bible’s parable of the landowner who hired people throughout the day to work his land. At the end of the day, he paid each worker the same wage, whether they worked long or short hours. The workers who worked longer grumbled because they didn’t think the wage was fair.

“That’s the rub with God’s generosity,” Johnson said. “A generous gift isn’t fair. A generous gift is shocking. It can be overwhelming, even upsetting. Because a gift is not about merit. We don’t earn a gift. By definition a gift is something we can only receive. The sustaining energy of the Christian faith is not what we do for God, but what God has done for us.”

Generosity is what Hope Forward is all about.
Hope Forward’s plan to cover the cost of tuition for every student means the college is taking a transactional exchange where students pay tuition in return for an education and turning it into something life transforming, Johnson explained.

“Moving from contract to covenant is a rich idea,” said Baldwin, whose architectural firm has done many projects on campus including two phases of Cook Village, van Andel Huys der Hope Campus Ministries center, the Future of Work renovation of the lower level of DeWitt for the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career, and the Jim Heeringa Athletic Center. “What I find inspiring is Hope College’s why. Hope College is in the business of shaping souls, not just another liberal arts college creating a financial model that works so they don’t close their doors.”

Peter Baldwin (right) on campus for a scholarship luncheon.

When students’ tuition is covered by generous donors, it changes everything, Johnson explained. Students are free to choose a career that will make a difference in the world instead of choosing a job only to repay debt. This creates a circle of giving, where those who have received the gift of tuition want to give back so others have the same opportunity. It’s what Jesus said in Matthew 10:8 — “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Viewing Hope Forward through this lens changed everything for Baldwin.

“I began to see that Hope Forward was not just a strategy to rethink access to higher education and a mechanism to generate a financially sustainable model,” said Baldwin.

“Hope Forward is a powerful expression of Hope’s fundamental purpose — a way to operationalize our mission of living into a culture of generosity and giving that goes with God’s salvation plan.”

While Baldwin fully endorses Hope Forward’s goal to provide access to a transformational Christian liberal arts education for all students, regardless of their ability to pay, he is realistic about the challenges ahead. It will require tremendous effort to do the fundraising on the front end to make it work.

But Johnson said Hope Forward literally means Hope College is “putting our money where our mouth is about our Christian mission.”

“The Christian mission is why we’re doing this, not just for our sustainability, not just for affordability, but because we are a people who have received the gift of God and we want to live in such a way that we’re passing that forward to the next generation,” Johnson said. “And for a suspicious generation right now, that’s the story that they need to hear about God.”

“A Good Circle”

This spring, Malcolm Gladwell visited campus for the Catalyst Summit. While he was at Hope, Gladwell interviewed President Matt Scogin and Hope Forward students for his podcast, Revisionist History. The episode is called “A Good Circle” and we’re honored to be a part of the conversation about changing the funding model of higher education. Listen anytime at hope.edu/forward.

“A Good Circle” Transcript

Podcast audio: https://apple.co/3NRpazX


Malcolm Gladwell:
Hey, Revisionist History listeners, Malcolm here. Before we get started, I wanted to update you on a few things. First thing, this August 24th, the Revisionist History season begins in earnest. Eight old school episodes in a row. The little narrative jewel boxes you’ve come to love. We’ve been feeding you little bits and pieces so far this season, but this is the main event. At the heart of it is a six part series on guns and violence that I think is my favorite thing we’ve ever done. Weird, moving, funny, heartbreaking. So mark your calendars, August 24th is when it all happens.

And by the way, if you want to get that whole miniseries early and binge it all at once without ads, you can just by becoming a Pushkin+ subscriber. In fact, just 6.99 a month, or 39.99 a year, gets you every one of the Pushkin shows early and ad free. Just go to the Revisionist History show page in Apple Podcasts or pushkin.fm/plus to sign up.

And one last thing, speaking of things you should binge, the latest season of our true crime masterpiece, Lost Hills, has dropped. The new season explores the legacy of Malibu’s Dark Prince Miki Dora. Miki was a surfer known for his style, grace, and aggression, who ruled the Malibu beaches from the 1950s to 1970s, celebrated for his rebellious spirit. He was also a conman who led the FBI on a seven-year manhunt around the world. Believe me, this is a show worth a listen, so sign up for Pushkin+ and you can binge this one too.

Matt Scogin was working on Wall Street, 80 hours a week, making good money, happily married, a small town boy from Michigan made good, when he began to have a change of heart.

Matt Scogin:
I went through a period of my life, a mini existential crisis. My dad died in 2013. He had a cancer called multiple myeloma. He was only 60. And then just two years after that, my mom passed away from a different kind of cancer. She had breast cancer. And it kind of sent me into a period of life where I just felt like I love my work, it’s interesting, it’s intellectually stimulating, I love the people with whom I work, but I also felt this sense of like, at the end of the day, I’m showing up to work every day to help a bank make more money. I went through a season of pretty intense prayer and discernment and just kind of feeling like, I think I’m supposed to be doing something else.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Scogin was on the board of the small Christian liberal arts school he’d gone to as an undergraduate, a place called Hope College, on the shores of Lake Michigan. And just as his life was turning upside down, the school’s president announced he was leaving. Scogin says that when he heard the news, he had an intense feeling that this was the job he was supposed to do. He thought of the Mark Twain quote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.” Scogin had no academic experience. He was a ridiculous long shot. But slowly, he inched forward in the process, and as he did, he realized that, if it was actually going to happen, if he were really going to be the president of a college, he couldn’t do what every other president was doing.

Matt Scogin:
I had a couple of pretty formative experiences. There was a moment when I was on an airplane on a business trip and I was flying back to New York from California, I think, and we were flying into JFK. And I’m like half asleep on the airplane and the pilot comes on and he says, “We’re at 33,000 feet and we’re beginning our descent into JFK.” 33,000, at the time, was the price of Hope’s tuition, and I just got this visual image in my head of 33,000 going to zero.

And then it was three weeks later and I was having dinner with a friend and we were just talking about life, and I told him that I was thinking about applying for this job, and he asked me about Hope College, and he asked me about what I saw as the challenges in higher ed, and I, of course, mentioned the cost. And he just very sort of flippantly, and without thinking, he said, “Well, no one should have to pay for Hope.” And then he repeated it, “No one should have to pay for Hope.” And he meant it as a joke, I think, and we both laughed, but as I was laughing, like I realized, “Dang, he just said something profoundly true. No one should have to pay for Hope.”

Malcolm Gladwell:
My name is Malcolm Gladwell. You’re listening to Revisionist History, my podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood. Over the years on this podcast, we have talked about the strange goings-on in higher education, ridiculously fancy amenities, the LSAT, the absurd US News rankings, multi-billion dollar endowments. This episode is about a very different kind of strange goings-on, Matt Scogin’s radical experiment, nobody should have to pay for Hope.

Hope is in a little town called Holland, just west of Grand Rapids, which is called Holland because Dutch immigrants settled there. The area still has a lot of tidy Dutch practicality. The big local employers are the furniture makers, Herman Miller and Haworth. The campus is right in the middle of town, a big beautiful church at the center. I got a campus tour from a towering Nigerian student with the magnificently Nigerian first name of Marvelous. I sat in a campus coffee shop listening to a high-spirited back and forth that began with the movies and ended with scripture. The school was having a day long conference to explain to the community what they were trying to do. A student spoke first, a young woman named Madison, a little nervous in front of the crowd. She’d made some of the art hanging on the walls around the room.

Hi everyone. Good evening and thank you for attending what I believe is a wonderful artistic representation of Hope Forward as not only a vision, but a reality. My name is Madison and I have the honor of belonging to the inaugural Hope Forward cohort.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Hope Forward was the name Scogin gave to his experiment. Madison had made a print of a willow tree that she said symbolized what the school had done for her.

Because of this gift, I feel free to pursue any area of study without the burden of excessive debt. This means I am free to care about my community here and later, because I am and will be passionate about what I do.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Then the writer Mitch Albom came to the podium. Albom was actually the reason I was there. He emailed me out of the blue one day and told me about what was happening in Holland. He drove over from Detroit where he lives and kicked things off with a short talk about why he’s a Hope College believer.

Mitch Albom:
Yeah, I guess I’m here in multiple capacities. I’m sort of like a parent, and proud to be, and I’m going to share with you for a couple of minutes how that came to be and why I do believe that this model works, because I have seen it in action many times in my life. And in fact, the latter part of my professional life has kind of been dedicated to this.

Malcolm Gladwell:
The model he was referring to was President Scogin’s Hope Forward, his grand experiment.

Mitch Albom:
So I had honestly not been that charitable a person in the first part of my career. Not because I was against it, I think I was just like many young people, I was very wrapped up in my own success and my own ambition. And then I got involved, as some of you’re probably aware, with an old professor of mine who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease named Morrie Schwartz, and I visited with him every Tuesday.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Tuesdays with Morrie was album’s most famous book. It came out in 1997. It’s one of the best-selling memoirs of all time.

Mitch Albom:
I noticed that when people would come in and visit with him, very quickly the conversation would change. They would come in trying to cheer him up, because he was dying from this terminal illness, but within a couple of minutes he would start asking them about their work, their love life, whatever, and an hour later they’d come out in tears and they’d say, “I tried to cheer him up, and next thing I know I’m talking to him and he’s asking me questions, and then he’s really asking me questions, and then I’m really [inaudible 00:08:41], and I’m crying. I tried to cheer him up, he ended up cheering me up, he ended up comforting me.”

And I asked him, finally, after witnessing this so many times, “I don’t get it. You’re the one who’s dying. Why don’t you just say, ‘Let’s not talk about your problems, let’s talk about my problems?'” And he said, “Mitch, why would I ever take from people like that? Taking just makes me feel like I’m dying. Giving makes me feel like I’m living.” It’s a profound little sentence. It also rhymes, so it’s easy to remember. Giving makes you feel like living, and I have never forgotten that moment, nor have I ever forgotten that sentiment.

Malcolm Gladwell:
A small Christian college, a student talking about a willow tree, a best-selling writer of inspirational books introduces the rhyming catchphrase, “Giving makes you feel like living.” If the cynic in you is bubbling to the surface right now, I understand. Because these aren’t the kinds of things we expect to hear on college campuses. What about the fancy new building opening? The expansion of the endowed prestigious center for this and that? The glittering credentials of the incoming class? But by the end of the evening, I kind of wished every school sounded like this.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Imagine that you had never heard of higher education before. You had been living on a desert island somewhere. And suddenly, once you finished Desert Island High School, your parents decided what you needed was an American college degree.

So you show up on this thing called a campus. And you ask your hosts, “What am I to you?”

And they say, “We think of you as a student, kind of. But also as a customer, because this whole thing is going to cost you a lot of money, and we need to get paid.”

“How much?” You ask.

“Well, it depends. Like whether you’re good at things like fencing or rowing, and how much your parents make. But chances are, you’ll have to borrow a lot to pay for your education.”

So you say, “Oh, so I’m really like someone with a big mortgage. I’m a debtor.”

And they say, “Sure. But once you’ve graduated, we’re going to call you every year to ask for donations on the grounds that you are now a member of our community.”

Your head is spinning at this point. “Oh, really? What are those donations for?”

“Well, it’s for this thing we invented called an endowment, which is a big pile of cash that sits with a money manager in New York, which we use as a symbol of how important we are.”

So you say, “Wait, I’m a student, a customer, a debtor, and an investor in a Wall Street hedge fund. Are all businesses in the United States this complicated?”

And they say “No, just higher education.”

This arrangement struck Matt Scogin as deeply weird. He was a banker. He came from a world where financial arrangements had precise definitions: gross sales, net revenue, EBITDA, earnings before interest taxes and amortization. He was an outsider to this world.

He didn’t think like a college president. He doesn’t even look like a college president. He was 39 when he was hired, but looks even younger. I’m short and skinny, he’s shorter and skinnier.

He has red hair and oversized ears, and looks, and this reference will be lost to all of you under the age of 50, a little like Ron Howard in Happy Days. Later, when we were chatting with a group of students, I asked what they call him.

Matt Scogin:
The summer I got here I started saying, “You should call me Matt.” Because my name is Matt.

And then there was like an intervention. The dean of students came, and a couple of other people came into my office and they said, “You can’t have the students call you by your first name. It’s disrespectful to the office of the president.”

So I said, okay. So they call me President Scogin to my face. They call me, who knows what. They call me, Sco-Daddy.

Speaker 1:
Yeah. Sco-Daddy.

Matt Scogin:
The Scoges, Scogin.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Sco-Daddy. There aren’t a lot of Sco-Daddies in the ranks of America’s college presidents.

When they picked you, was there a sense that they were taking a chance?

Matt Scogin:
Yes. Well, maybe. There was definitely a sense they were doing something unconventional. So they were hiring a young, non-academic. But it was coming from this premise of the board wanted to, a recognition that something needs to be done in higher education. We need to try something different.

And so they hired me and basically said, you can do anything you want except the status quo. We’re hiring you to do something different.

Malcolm Gladwell:
He took the job, moved into a big house near the church in the middle of campus, and started going to the cafeteria and talking to students. Student, customer, debtor, investor, what effect, he wondered, did this have on them?

Matt Scogin:
And I have a handful of questions that I love asking students. I like asking the same questions over and over again, because I get compare and contrast answers. And one of the questions I always ask is, what do you want to do after you graduate? And I always use the word want.

And what I get often as a response is, what I want to do is different than what I feel like I have to do. And I’ll get students say, “I want to do Doctors Without Borders.” Or, “I want to do Teach for America.” Or the Peace Corps, or some ministry. But I’ve got $50,000 of student loan debt, so I’m going to become a, whatever. Consultant to pay off my student loan debt. And then I’ll pursue the impact I feel like I want to have.

Malcolm Gladwell:
It seemed to Scogin that you can’t do both. You can’t ask a student to engage in the pursuit of truth, and at the same time have them wake up in the middle of the night with a sense of dread. Hope as an accounting program, and Scogin was a big fan of accounting. But he felt the way things were, accounting would always win out over philosophy, which didn’t seem right.

Matt Scogin:
I actually think students don’t come to college with a life plan. They come to college with questions, thoughts, and lots of questions about their purpose. And it might be the case that studying philosophy, or studying the classics, is precisely how you’re going to find your purpose.

And yet, if you’re coming with $50,000 of debt, you might get skewed into, you might might feel nudged into studying accounting. And therefore maybe miss something that’s in your purpose.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Okay, back to your college search after Desert Island High. You come to America and what you discover on your college tour is how strangely similar a lot of colleges are.

Williams College looks like Amherst, which in turn looks like William and Mary, which looks like a smaller version of the University of Virginia. Everybody wants to be the same thing; the same look and the same business model. Find as many full-paying students as they can, and charge you as much tuition as they can get away with.

Why are all the colleges the same? My dad taught at the University of Waterloo in Southern Ontario, and they had what they called a co-op program, with a college arranged with local employers to hire students during their off-term.

Everybody was on co-op. To give you a flavor of how it works, I asked a student named Spencer, who just graduated from Waterloo, to give me a breakdown of his finances. This is what Spencer told me.

Total four-year costs. Tuition plus room and board were $122,000. In that time he did six co-op terms working with a government organization, and several firms in his field. And they paid him a total of $81,000.

So his overall cost, out of pocket, for getting an engineering degree was 40,000. That’s not bad. Plus, and I’m quoting here from his email, “I’ll add that a good thing is that the majority of my classmates were graduating with a job lined up due to the co-op program and industry connections.”

Now, do I think co-op programs could work everywhere, and solve every problem? No, of course not. But the University of Waterloo has been running this program for almost 70 years. It’s a huge success. You would think, wouldn’t you, that versions of the idea would’ve spread everywhere by now. That every school that has a problem with students graduating with lots of debt, which by the way is nearly every school, would’ve experimented with ways of connecting with local businesses to give their students work experience, and lighten their debt burden.

Has it happened? No. Why? Because college presidents have their heads in the clouds.

Matt Scogin:
If you kind of look at the trajectory of higher education, it’s just not going to end well. This trajectory of tuition goes up by three to 5% every year. It’s just not going to work. And so this sense of, somebody has to do something. At the end of the day, the thing I love most about this place is our name, Hope.

Hope, by definition, means that we believe problems are solvable. And that’s what we try to prepare our students to be. Hope-bringers, people who go out in the world and run toward. Not away, but run toward the biggest challenges they can find. And that’s why we exist.

And we felt like, and the board felt like, who better than a place called Hope to run toward this big societal challenge? Which is the funding model of higher education.

Malcolm Gladwell:
So Scogin made a radical decision. Let’s make it so students don’t have to think about money at all during their four years of college, and put in place a pay-it-forward model, where you give back to the college after you’ve graduated. That’s the program that Scogin calls Hope-Forward.

To apply, you write an essay describing an area of hopelessness to which you want to bring hope. They started small. After the first two years, they have a total of 58 students in the program. The goal is to enroll a hundred freshmen annually within the next few years, and keep the program growing until it covers everyone.

Matt Scogin:
If you’re coming in, you don’t pay anything. You don’t pay anything for tuition. You sign a, we call it a covenant. It’s basically a commitment. I sign it on behalf of the college, and then the student signs it. So we’re entering into this sort of covenantal relationship. Not a transactional agreement.

It’s not a contract, it’s not a legal contract. But it’s this relationship with mutual commitment. And the commitment we’re making as a institution is we’re saying, we’re going to give you a great education, and then launch you into a life of impact afterwards.

And the commitment the student is making is, they’re going to take their education seriously, and then they’re going to give. They’re going to give something to the college every year after they graduate. We don’t specify an amount, we don’t suggest an amount, nothing like that.

Because we want it to truly be a gift. A gift that’s given out of generosity. And we don’t want it to feel like it’s a different flavor of a student loan bill. We’re trying to move away from a system that’s based on bill paying and replace it with a system that’s based on gift-giving.

So that the relationship with students is not a transactional one at all, but rather a relationship based at its core around generosity and gratitude.

Malcolm Gladwell:
The math behind the pay-it-forward system is, to say the least, daunting. Problem number one is the transition period. A school like Hope takes in about $55 million in tuition. If you say to your students, don’t pay anything until later, then you have to come up with 55 million every year until the pay-it-forward money comes trickling in. If Hope-forward covered everyone, the school would need about a billion dollars to handle that transition period. Problem number two is what happens after the transition period. How do you know that Hope Forward graduates will give back an amount equal to the cost of their education? Scogin freely admits he doesn’t.

Matt Scogin:
Some may give far less than that, some may give way more than that. I think that’s another reason why we decided to not put a specific amount on it. If we say, “You’ve made a commitment to give and we suggest this amount in order to pay off what you would’ve paid through tuition,” well, then people would give that amount presumably. But by not putting an amount, some people may give way more than they would’ve paid through tuition and others will give less.

And I think what this model does is it gives us, as an institution, we’re highly incentivized to help our students be successful. The more successful they are, the more opportunities they’ll have to give. And likewise for our students, it’s kind of like the onus is on them. When they’re in their earnings years, then it’s up to them to determine how important their education was in launching them into their career. And they’re then paying them what they think this was worth. And I think it’s up to us then to make the education so valuable that they’re grateful for it after they graduate.

Malcolm Gladwell:
You are sailing into the unknown.

Matt Scogin:
Oh, totally.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Is Matt Scogin crazy? Maybe. But I have to say that I’m an optimist on Hope Forward. First, I think that Scogin is right, that the success of the program depends on the school convincing its graduates that their education was worth something. Although it’s early, the evidence so far is encouraging. The students admitted into Hope Forward as a group have slightly lower academic credentials coming into the school than the rest of their freshman class. But after their first year, they’re outperforming their non Nope Forward peers. There’s something different about your attitude towards school once you’re inside the gratitude generosity loop.

Second thing, most of the students at Hope grew up in the church, and this is how a church works. You don’t pay church tuition at the door. Sometimes churches encourage you to tithe a 10th of your income, but most times you just give whatever you can. And the congregation and the preacher trust in God that whatever comes in from the offering on Sunday morning will cover the expenses for the rest of the week.

I remember one of the things that President Scogin said was that were trying to fund higher education the way that we fund churches, which is through crowdfunding. And I felt like that metaphor helps it make a lot more sense to me.

Malcolm Gladwell:
I met with a group of Hope Forward students at one point. This was a sophomore named Olivia. Pay it forward made sense to her, conceptually.

The idea of a church is you give what you can, when you can, and you give because you want to and because you believe in the mission of the church. And I feel like that’s a really great metaphor that helps me understand what we’re doing here and what the purpose of it is, so it’s the same idea.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Madison was part of the group too. The same Madison who spoke at the Mitch Albom reception.

I feel like once you’re given, someone’s generous towards you, it is so much easier to be generous towards others. And that’s also how I think of God’s love. When I experience God’s love through other people, it’s so much easier for me to share that love with some other people, with other people. And I just feel like the whole thing, it’s meant to be contagious, so generosity is easier when someone has shown generosity towards you.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Third thing, and maybe the most important thing, why do we assume that giving out of the spirit of giving is hard? This is a little bit of a tangent, but those of you who are regular listeners to Revisionist History will know the special antipathy I have for Princeton University. A school with 8,478 students and an endowment of $36 billion. Princeton’s endowment is so large that in nine of the last 11 years its investment earnings had been greater than its entire operating budget. To give you a flavor of this, and forgive me because this gets me so riled up. In 2021, Princeton made a $3.77 billion return on its endowment. But the school’s annual budget was just under 2 billion, meaning they could cover all their expenses just on the check they get at the end of the year from their wealth managers on Wall Street and still have $2 billion left.

In the previous episode, I handed out the first of the Revisionist History prizes, which honor extraordinary performances by elite college administrators. The inaugural prize was the George Santos Memorial Award for Egregiously Deceptive Self-Promotion, which went to Columbia for their brazen manipulation of their US news rankings. Well, I have yet another prize to award, the Perpetual Motion Award, for the school that comes closest to running on its own power forever. And the clear winner here is Princeton.

I did a little blog post about this and let me quote from myself here. “Princeton could let in every student for free. The university administrators could tell the US government and all of its funding agencies, ‘It’s cool we got this.’ They could take out the cash registers in the cafeteria, hand out free parking to all visitors, give away Princeton sweatshirts on Nassau Street, and fire their entire accounts receivable staff and their entire fundraising staff tomorrow. They could say to every one of the hardworking professors on their staff, ‘You never have to spend even a second writing a grant proposal again. Free at last, free at last.'”

But here’s the thing. Even though by any rational measure Princeton no longer needs to raise any more money, the alumni of Princeton still give money to Princeton. A higher percentage of Princeton graduates give money back to their school than any school in the country. A Wall Street guy named James Yeh in fact just gave Princeton so many millions of dollars that Princeton opened a brand new residence hall called, wait for it, Yeh College.

Speaker 2:
Yeh College will help advance the expansion of the student body so that additional high-achieving students will realize the benefits of a Princeton education, enhance the diversity and vitality of our campus, and go on to contribute to society after graduation.

Malcolm Gladwell:
This is complete gibberish. The sense of community that a college gives to its students has nothing to do with the architectural design of the dorms. This is the way the Four Seasons talks about a new hotel. But here’s the thing, Mr. Yeh, a very, very smart man who graduated with a physics degree from Princeton and went on to make many, many billions on Wall Street, believes it to be true. So true in fact that he got into his Bentley, loaded up the trunk with coles, and drove them down I-95 to Newcastle. And if you don’t understand that reference, may I refer you to Mr. Google.

My point is we have plenty of evidence that smart people will give huge amounts of money to their alma maters for the stupidest of reasons. Why do we find it hard to believe smart people will give small amounts of money to their alma maters? For the best of reasons. Or to put it a little more charitably, maybe Mitch Albom was right, giving makes you feel like living.

Matt Scogin was sitting in on my meeting with the students. He didn’t speak until the very end.

Matt Scogin:
There’s this line in Matthew, it says, “Freely you have received, not freely give.” I think there’s this crazy sense in higher education where most people know that not everyone has access to a great education, but there’s this sense in which it must be the case that ultimately those who do get access to a great education somehow deserve it, like this meritocracy. And it just feels like that’s meritocracy gone totally off the rails. At the end of the day, a Christian doesn’t believe that anyone deserves a good life. If we really got what we deserved, we’d all be screwed. A Christian believes that anything we have that’s good is a gift of unmerited favorite from God.

And I think what you’re hearing from these students is this profound sense of, “We’re ready to just live into that.” I heard somebody once described generosity as this mindset of circulation. Like you take a book out of the library and you know it’s not yours. You’re just going to read the book and then you’re going to give it back to the library so that somebody else can read it. And I think that’s the way a Christian ought to think about everything we have, everything we own. God gave us stuff just so that we could circulate it. God blesses Abraham in the Old Testament and He says very clearly why He blesses Abraham. He says, “I’ve blessed you so that you can be a blessing.”

And I think that’s the way Christians ought to view everything we have. Everything we have is this unmerited gift, and then we’re just going to radically give it to the world so that we can be a blessing with the ways we’ve been blessed. And I’m putting words in your mouth, but I feel like I heard that from your stories in a pretty powerful way. You guys are amazing. Thanks.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Here, by way of contrast, is a passage in the commencement speech of the President of Harvard, Drew Faust, in 2018. She has the entire graduating class in front of her. Her goal is to give them words to inspire them on their journey into the greater world. And then she starts listing the unprecedented headwinds at Harvard the institution had faced as it sought to educate the very best and the brightest.

Speaker 3:
We have faced a political and policy environment in increasingly hostile to expertise and skeptical about higher education. The unprecedented endowment tax passed last December will, we estimate, impose on us a levy next year equivalent to $2,000 per student.

Malcolm Gladwell:
Holy Toledo, they have dared to tax our $56 billion endowment. I don’t know, under the circumstances I’d rather ride with Sco-daddy.

I want to play for you the end of Mitch Albom’s speech at the Hope College reception. He stood at the front of the room, slight and unprepossessing, big head of black hair, casually dressed. People are standing and milling around and eating canapes. And he starts to talk about how this whole idea of giving makes you feel like living taught to him by Maurice Schwartz slowly took over his life. He started a scholarship fund that grew and grew, then a charity to work with the homeless. And then finally the project that has occupied him ever since.

Mitch Albom:
And in 2010, I heard about the earthquake in Haiti and I’d never been to Haiti, probably couldn’t find it that easily on a map.

Malcolm Gladwell:
He heard that the earthquake had destroyed an orphanage. So he got on a plane and flew to Haiti.

Mitch Albom:
And what I saw there will never leave my mind. I’m sure many of you remember that earthquake. It was devastating. In 45 seconds, it killed nearly 3% of Haiti’s population. Of its population. Can you imagine in America, that would be about 9 million people dead. And left about 10% of its population homeless.

Malcolm Gladwell:
The orphanage was in ruins.

Mitch Albom:
And the toilets were a little bit more than holes in the ground, and prior to that were fields where kids would use rocks to bang on other rocks so that the rats would run away if they had to go to the bathroom at night and then they would use the rock for toilet paper. So we had our work cut out for us. And I began to go back with some guys from Detroit and we had an idea to fix the place up.

Now the thing is, what stuck with me the most were the kids, the kids who were there and their smiles and their joy and their faith and their belief that things could get better. Those kids were the reason that I came back and came back and came back and came back. Every single month since February of 2010, for the last 13 years I’ve been in Haiti at that orphanage. And we began to build it up with guys I bought down from Detroit. Again, all I did was ask. I didn’t have to pay anybody, they all came as volunteers. And we built the first kitchen and the first showers and all things that didn’t exist there before. And we began to grow, we got bigger and we got bigger and we got bigger.

Malcolm Gladwell:
One of America’s most successful writers has been going to Haiti, a place that the rest of the world has all but given up on. He’s gone every month for 13 years with a group of his friends from Detroit driving back and forth from the airport in an armored car because much of the country is controlled by criminal gangs. And why does he keep going? Because he discovered, quite by accident, that giving makes you feel like living. When Albom heard about Matt Scogin’s experiment, he told some of the students at his orphanage about it and they applied, answered the same essay questions as everyone else.

Mitch Albom:
Our kids with these new facilities have learned from the very beginning that they are there to help one another. And so we found it funny when in the application process they ask, what is your community involvement? And the kids who filled out the application said, “Mr. Mitch, like what are we supposed to put? What does this mean? Community involvement.” And I said, “Well, it means what do you do for others?” And I said, “Let’s talk about what you do for others.” And 15 minutes later we were still listing things because every day our kids take care of the other kids. Our kids are their big brothers and big sisters. They are their sources of caring and food and cleansing and washing and feeding and dressing and taking to school and watching out for one another. And we go out into the community and help with the streets or when we used to be able to travel around, our kids would go to a place where they had premature babies were born and they would hold the babies because nobody ever held these children and they had no human contact. Our kids, most of whom have no parents, come from places where in many cases we have to invent birth certificates because we literally don’t know where they came from, how old they are, or who their parents are and these kids are holding other little babies to make them feel welcome in the world.

I have seen their ability and their desire to give back. So when they filled out that application, it was easy to say what they’ve done for others. All of our kids know, they don’t even have to agree to it because it’s part of our DNA, that when they’re done with college and we send all of our kids to college or graduate school our first one just got accepted to medical school last month and we’re going to have our first doctor. So if you can be like Jewish dad, proud of a Haitian doctor, there we are. And we find money to pay for it. But they know that the first thing they do when they graduate is they come back to the orphanage and they work for two years giving back at the orphanage from the place that gave to them. That is the concept. That is the concept of Hope Forward.

So our kids were living this concept. They had to break it to you, Matt, but it ain’t original. Our kids have been living this concept from the very beginning. And speaking of kids, I can’t see so well, but you may have noticed some of those pictures a little earlier.

Malcolm Gladwell:
On the screen behind Albom was a series of photographs. There were two teen girls together and then a boy and then another teenage boy flexing his muscles.

Mitch Albom:
All of them last June graduated from our school. And what is always the best moment that we have at our orphanage, and all of them now are right here at Hope and they’re in this room right here. They’re already going to kill me for showing those photos. So I’m not going to make them come up and be acknowledged in the front, but they’re here Somenza and Kiki and Teta and JJ. And if we have any luck, we’ll have two more or maybe even three more coming here next year.

Malcolm Gladwell:
So is Matt Scogin crazy? I don’t think so. I think everyone else is crazy for giving up on the idea that giving makes you feel like living. I wish you could have been there in that room listening to Mitch Albom and Madison and Matt Scogin and all the other revolutionaries in Holland, Michigan, who believe that gratitude and generosity can help us rebuild what is broken.

Mitch Albom:
So we’re very proud to be associated with a program that is embodying the very belief that we teach at our orphanage to Have Faith Haiti Orphanage that you are responsible for one another in this world. And from the minute our kids arrive, they know that somebody has taken responsibility for them. And from the moment they leave us, they know that they have to take responsibility for somebody else. That is a good circle and we’re proud to be a part of it.

Malcolm Gladwell:
This episode of Revisionist History was produced by Ben Denaf Hafry and Lee Mengistu. This is actually Lee’s last show with us as she’s moved on to the world of audio fiction. If you want to hear one of Lee’s great accomplishments on Revisionist, check out our Little Mermaid series. Lee, we will miss you. Jacob Smith, Kiara Powell, make up the rest of our producing team. Our show runner is Peter Clowny. Original scoring by Louis Scarra. Fact checking by Kashaw Williams and Talia Amlin. Mastering by Flon Williams. And engineering by Nina Lawrence. Additional recording by Jonathan Fagel and Ben Ugama. Special thanks to Matt Scogin, Jason Cash, Mary Remenschneider, and everyone who welcomed us at Hope College.

I’m Malcolm Gladwell.